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Month: April 2015

Bringing It. Lunch That Is.

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to take my lunch to work a lot more. I had lots of reasons for this –  it’s a LOT cheaper, it meant I could control ingredients and portion sizes, it can often be healthier and there’s much less wastage both in food and packaging.  There’s no real downside. 

Except.  The monotony. By about mid February I felt like I was cornering the market in tins of tuna – tuna green salad, tuna pasta salad, tuna potato salad, tuna and couscous had become my go to and frankly it was becoming a bit of a bore.  I was maxxed out on the tuna and feeling my motivation starting to wane. 

Enter “Bring Your Lunch” by Califia Suntree.

Bring Your Lunch
Bring Your Lunch

And can I just say…awesome name, Califia Suntree. 

And awesome book. 

In the interests of full disclosure and all the blah blah, I did not pay for this book, I got it free off net galley but I would hope that you all know me well enough  by now to know that if I truly dislike something, I’ll let you know. 

The Book

The first few chapters of the book are the facts, man.  Why you should take your lunch, what you need, planning tips etc.  This section is very thorough. Or so I assume from the number of pages devoted to it.

To be honest, I didn’t actually read all of them because I wanted to get my hands on the recipes.  Plus, I felt I was already motivated to bring my own lunch didn’t need to be pitched on the reasons why.  However, it is very nicely illustrated and if you need to be convinced, or feel your motivation flagging at any time, take the time to read these pages. 

Bring your Lunch Collage

My favourite picture in this section was the lunch horoscope.  It really helped to refine what recipes would best fit your lifestyle,not just your tastebuds!  Which is so important,  I’m not the person who is going to be spending any time in the morning making lunch so it’s important for me to know which are the good “night owl” recipes.

This could have been carried even further by attaching the relevant symbols to recipe.  That would have been amazing!!!

Bring Your Lunch2The Food

 The food sections of the book are broken down into various sections, starting with

Last Minute Lunches – Salads

The Kale Agrodolce is not only just a good idea for lunches but it has pretty much become my go to salad at the moment.  I’m loving the sweet – sour of the agrodolce.  Having said that, that name made me giggle though.  Anyone of a certain age in Australia would like me probably associate an Agrodolce as the mutant lovechild between a foul mouthed puppet host of a children’s cartoon show from the ’80’s….

 And Joe Dolce, a singer who made his fortune by playing to the casual racism of the average Australian;

 Thankfully, it’s actually a lovely sweet-sour blend of sultanas soaked in balsamic vinegar.  Add some toasted pine nuts, some kale et voila.  Here it is with some of the Potato and Mushroom Tarts from Valli Little’s Slow. This was one of the best lunches I have had in ages!!!

Kale Agrodolce
Kale Agrodolce

 Another super salad from this section was the Fennel and Spinach Salad with Figs and Blue Cheese.  I don’t have a photo of this .  Largely because every time I made it I was far too busy shoving all that tasty goodness into my mouth to take photos.  Just believe me when I say it is one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. But don’t take my word for it.  I feel bad I didn’t have a photo for you, so here is the recipe:

Fennel and Spinach Salad with Figs and Blue Cheese

Make this today, you will not be disappointed!

Last Minute Lunches – Sandwiches

I made the Prawn and Tarragon Egg Salad. 

Who knew egg and prawns would go together do well? And tarragon pretty much makes everything taste good.  I had this both as a traditional sandwich and wrapped in a lettuce leaf and it was delicious both ways. 

 Egg Salad With Prawn and Tarragon3Leftover Leitmotifs

Waste not, want not.  Make all your food count by creatively using leftovers to make delicious bring your own lunch meals.  I made:

Nasi Goreng

Great way to use random veg  – I had cabbage, mushrooms, onion, carrot, corn, spring onions, snow peas, broccoli….I think that was all and some chicken breast.  I also threw in some prawns. So tasty!!!

Nasi Goreng
Nasi Goreng

 And who doesn’t love Chicken Noodle Soup?  The Parmesan Cheese and Lemon in this Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup makes it particularly tasty.


Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup
Lemony Chicken Noodle Soup

Other delicious sounding recipes in this section include:

  • Chinese Chicken Salad
  • Pork Tacos with Pinepapple Salsa
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Ceviche with Mango and Basil

The Freezer Is Your Friend

Mini Lasagnas are my friend.  Bake these vegetarian delights in muffin trays and pop in the freezer for future use. 

Hardy Green Mini Lasagnas
Hardy Green Mini Lasagnas

And how gorgeous do these look, particularly when topped with a lovely cherry tomato compote?

 Hardy Green Mini Lasagnas With Cherry Tomato Compote

Hardy Green Mini Lasagnas With Cherry Tomato Compote

 Ditch The Vending Machine

Chickpea Nuts

Delicious to snack on. So simple to make.

BYOL - Chickpea NutsYou can indulge your sweet tooth with

  • Chilli & Cherry Brownie Bites
  • Gingery Pecan Cranberry Granola Bars

Califia even provides advice on how to Tart Up Your Tuna, so there is absolutely never any reason to get stuck in a rut even with this staple lunch ingredient.

Tart Up Your Tuna - Califia Suntree
Tart Up Your Tuna – Califia Suntree

 I really liked this book and can see it becoming a go to for lunch (and more). 

My only criticism, is that whilst I love the drawings as featured above, I would have liked some photos of the food, sometimes it is just nice to see if you have “got it right”.  But that is probably more about my insecurities than any fault of the book.

At the time of writing Bring Your Lunch is selling at around $4 which is absolute bargain.  I would pay that just for the salad recipes let alone all the rest.  Why don’t you buy it and start bringing it too?

And tell me, what’s your go to work lunch?


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Feel Good Libyan Chicken Soup

So, this is the day I had.

Libyan Chicken Soup
Libyan Chicken Soup

The morning was humid and windy. Otherwise known as hell for allergies. My train was cancelled so I had to stand on the platform for 20 minutes waiting for the next one. In the humidity and wind. By the time the train finally came we were crammed in like sardines, my hair was frizzy from the humidity and my nose and eyes were streaming from the wind and the pollen / dust / mad air of Melbourne. Plus I’d left my book at home and someone had turned my charger off overnight so when I turned my phone on for entertainment it lasted about ten seconds before shutting down.  No reading.  No candy crush.  Did I mention this was a Monday?

Libyan Chicken Soup3
Libyan Chicken Soup3

So I was jammed into the train, nose streaming.  And I had no tissues.  I always have tissues.  Except when I don’t.  I became one of those really annoying people who sniffle and snuffle on public transport.  I hate those people. I think the only reason someone didn’t yell at me to “Stop that goddamn sniffing” was because my eyes were also streaming like mad and people probably thought I was crying.

Which I did later in the day when I dropped my lunch box and my delicious salad fell all over the ground.  So, out to buy lunch and it was no longer hot and humid.  It was pouring with rain.  So I got  soaked to the skin because, of course, I had no coat and no umbrella.  I spent the afternoon shivering.  By the time I got home, I was cold and grumpy and yes, still sniffing and all I wanted to do was get my dinner on, do my yoga podcast and collapse in front of My Kitchen Rules.

Libyan Chicken Soup4
Libyan Chicken Soup4

 Harrrummmppphhhh…my soup calls for tomato paste. We always have tomato paste. Except when we don’t.  I felt like crying again but subbed in some hefty swearing and a can of tomatoes and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes.  And then I put my soup on and went upstairs to do my yoga pod. 

 It was now 7:02pm.  MKR starts at 7:30. Which is fine. I do the YogaMazing podcast routines which are all about 20 minutes. So perfect timing really.  Is it possible that one thing is going to work out for me today?  I switch on the computer.

7:02        Windows is updating your computer.

7:10        Windows is still updating your computer

7:20        Windows is unfuckingbelievably still updating your computer.

The update finally finished at 7:28. I swear, it was as if they had timed it for maximum annoyance.

By now my little bit of grumpiness had turned into a full scale funk and a full blown cold.  I stomped downstairs to turn on the telly and the twitter because that is now my default mechanism for watching My Kitchen Rules. Bravo MKR tweeters, you are the funniest and the best!!!

Not that I was thinking that then because I was in a pique with the world.

And then I got to the bottom step and thought “What is that gorgeous smell?”

And no, it was not the neighbour’s cooking something delish but MY chicken soup. My Libyan Chicken Soup with Thyme, or to be exact my Sharba Libiya bil Dajaj wa Alzatar.  Or as I like to call it, the chicken soup of awesomeness.   

This smelled wonderful. Exotic and fragrant with spices, it was instantly warming and uplifting.  And it tasted amazing.  Both soothing to my frayed nerves and bad temper and exciting and spicy to my tastebuds. 

Libyan Chicken Soup2
Libyan Chicken Soup2

Talk about chicken soup for the soul.  This was life affirming.  One bowl of this and my fit of pique was lifted. 

This was as easy as hell to cook.   And all of the ingredients should be readily available.   The recipe called for “orzo” which I also didn’t have so as well as the tomatoes I subbed in risoni.  I have since found out these are the same thing. Who knew? Personally, I am going to start calling it by it’s Libyan name of Bird Tongues which manages to be both incredibly poetic, a perfect description and also, a teeny bit creepy. Oh, and the thyme featured below?  Straight from my garden!!!

 Birds Tongues and herbs

I found this recipe via a group I joined called MENA, the Middle East and North African cooking club. Every month the host chooses a soup, a main and a dessert from a country in the region and members can cook any or all of them.   I have been loving cooking from Persiana, and was very keen to learn more about this region’s food and ingredients. And if this was anything to go by, bring it on.

The recipe except for the tweaks mentioned above is here:

Sharba Libiya bil Dajaj wa Alzatar (Libyan Chicken Soup With Thyme)

Gah…because I was sick I missed the cut off for MENA this month but never fear, hear are some of the other entries in for this month:

Have a fabulous week, and the next time you feel a little bit sniffly or at odds with the world, try this soup!!!

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Frosted Tomato Cocktail

The frosted tomato cocktail was my pick from the Adventurous Appetizers section of The A-Z of Cooking. 

Frosted Tomato Cocktail
Frosted Tomato Cocktail

But first, each section of The A-Z of Cooking comes with a sentence or two to introduce it vis a vis:

A is for… ADVENTUROUS APPETIZERS: start a dinner party or special family supper with a new and exciting idea.


How much more fun if they’d done them all in verse:

There was a young girl called Eliza

Who wanted to make appetizers

She tried the tomat-er

As an exciting new starter

And the result did really surprise her.

Yeah, I know that was hardly “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” but the A-Z of Cooking is hardly The Larousse Gastronomique either.

You know what they say, water finds its level.

I nearly chose a recipe called Sweetcorn Scallops but the only thing scallopy about them was that they were served in scalloped shaped dishes or shells, neither of which I own. 

I feel they were already drawing a slightly long bow in naming it. If I’d made it in a normal dish you guys would have left wondering if I’d lost my mind…

I can hear it now  “Errmmmm, that’s bacon, honey, not scallops”

Sweetcorn Scallops
Sweetcorn Scallops

Anyhow, I really liked the picture of the Frosted Tomato Cocktail  from The A-Z of Cooking which is why I chose this one to make. I love that glass.   And  just so you don’t think it’s me, they love a long skinny photo in The A-Z of Cooking.

Frosted Tomato Cocktail - Picture
Frosted Tomato Cocktail – Picture

 Here is the original recipe:

Frosted Tomato Cocktail - Recipe
Frosted Tomato Cocktail – Recipe

This was really nice.  So refreshing.  It would be a gorgeous starter for a hot day in mid summer when tomatoes are at their very best.  Or even as a palate cleanser between courses.   

However, I felt it was missing something.  Because you know what?  As far as I’m concerned if you’re going to call something a cocktail, it better damn well have some booze in it.  Also, you really needed to ramp up the flavourings in the original.  .

My fennelly  take on the Frosted Tomato Cocktail was inspired by this Serious Eats recipe. You could put the fennel salt around the rim of the glass as they suggest or just include it in the mix like I did.  Celery salt would also be great here, in which case, I would garnish with a celery stalk instead of the mint.

I wanted mine to be vegan so I also omitted the Worcestershire and replaced it with tabasco. It may also be the most delicious thing I have ever made that is zero fat. 

Frosted Tomato Cocktail 2
Frosted Tomato Cocktail 2

We’ll be sticking with the letter A for the next sortie into The A-Z of Cooking where we will be looking at the world of after school snacks.  And I might try a haiku. 

Have a great week!

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Frosted Tomato Cocktail
Yields 4
A lovely refreshing start to a meal with a slight kick of heat!
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  1. 1 kilo tomatoes, skinned and chopped
  2. 125 mls tequla
  3. 4 tbsp water
  4. 2 tsp sugar
  5. juice of 1 lime
  6. dash of Tabasco Sauce
  7. 1 tbsp sea salt, I used Maldon
  8. 1 tsp fennel seeds
  9. Mint Leaves to garnish
  10. Pepper
  1. Toast the fennel seeds in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Place the salt and toasted fennel seeds in a mortar and grind until they are well combined and the seeds have broken down. Pass through a very fine sieve and set aside.
  2. Place the tomatoes, tequila, lime juice, and sugar into a blender and puree until smooth. Add the fennel salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce to taste.
  3. Pour mixture into large ice cube trays and freeze. Just before serving remove from freezer, take the frozen cubes out of ice tray and place them back in the blender.
  4. Puree until smooth but still frozen.
  5. Spoon into chilled glasses, garnish with mint and serve immediately.
Adapted from The A-Z of Cooking / Serious Eats
Retro Food For Modern Times
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